• By Tony Harriman
For more than thirty years my wife and I have been actively involved in front-line evangelism involving the distribution of truth-filled books. We've been to more countries than I can remember without stopping to think about them all. We've personally scattered a half million publications across the British Isles — satellite islands included. We've distributed books in many languages from Greenland to the Caribbean.
Once in a while over the years I've been met by a well-meaning brother or sister asserting, "You can't just scatter your books willy-nilly. There has to be careful preparation of the ground before you can expect any kind of growth from your seeds. If you want your seed to live, you're going to have to break up the ground FIRST."
From time to time I've been slowed in my personal evangelistic progress as I've thought about how true those words might be. I say "slowed," but not stopped. Recently I had an experience that confirmed for me that what I have been engaged in these many years is absolutely the thing to be doing. Let me tell you what happened, bear with me:
Several years ago my wife and I began spreading seed — literal seed — around our place in anticipation of obtaining some honey bees. We've enjoyed local honey for the longest time, and each year spend a fair amount of money on it. So we thought we'd invest in something that will give us a return — honey bees. We scattered the seed — all kinds of seed — and we waited ... and waited ... and waited. We got nothing.
Last year the moment came when my family decided to finally embark on this journey of beekeeping. Just a couple of hives, we thought. That should keep us supplied with all the honey we need.
Well, before long, we're reading books about bees; watching videos about bees; talking to people about bees. We even joined the local Honey Bee Association. After all the watching and listening you finally realize that this handful of acres you live on would be better suited to honey bees if you would throw a few seeds in and get some flowering plants growing ... the bees can feed on the blossoms, we reasoned. So we bought some seed and went about the place broadcasting that seed from one side of the property to the other. Then we stood back waiting for the sprouts to spring up. We waited, and we waited. Again, nothing. Wrong time of year, we thought. So later in the year we bought more seed and scattered that. Nothing ....
In the back of my mind I'm hearing this voice repeating, "Can't just scatter your seed willy nilly. Nothing will come up." I was becoming more and more convinced that I've been doing a whole lot of things the wrong way.
About fall time last year, my wife and I, along with the bank (mostly the bank), invested in a small tractor with a bucket on the front and a tiller attachment for the back. We tilled a few places on the property that we hadn't ever done anything with. We scattered manure, then we broadcast seed and tilled it in. It wasn't but a week or so and small green seedlings littered the ground.
We were enthused. So I visited the local farm store and started to ask questions about the soil. We had soil tests done. We broadcast about four tons of lime on the ground. It came time to think about sowing some seed. I shared with the Farm Store people my experience with seed scattering and how I wanted to do it right this time. The owner of the place gave me a look and asked, "When did you start putting seed out?" "Two or more years ago," I said. "The seed's still down there," the owner said, "Just till it in. Something will come up."
So that's what I did. I tilled, scattered manure, pulled out the rocks, tilled some more, then stood back. Now, we're talking about the time we're coming to the end of the growing season. But, wouldn't you know it ... a lot of all that old seed sprouted.
Recently I turned my attention back to the ground on the hilltop. I had already enjoyed two crops of buckwheat up there from one late planting. Then last year, just before the cold came in, I scattered a little more manure, tilled it in and walked away. I really didn't pay much attention up there until recently. We were having a stump dug out and started thinking about a new crop for spring. Wouldn't you know it ... there on the top of the hill, from last year's plants gone back to seed, after this horrible winter we've endured, was a half field full of buckwheat seedlings.
Before we got our bees last year, we scattered a couple of bags of pollinator wildflower seed. In our ignorance we just scattered it there on the ground, expecting at least something to come up. Nothing. Six months later, in the fall, I tilled that area with the wildflower seed in anticipation of putting more seed in later. The ground sat through the months of withering frost. But wouldn't you know it, a little more light and a little warmth, and some of those flowers are coming to life.
Matthew 13:3-8 reads like this:
3 And he [Jesus] spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
So Jesus speaks of a sower going forth to sow. The sower scatters seed everywhere. The seed falls on dry ground, rocky ground, hard ground, weedy ground. Yet still the scattering goes on. Much of the seed doesn't survive ... it's choked, burned, eaten and who knows what else. But some of that seed falls on good ground, where it produces a crop beyond wildest wishes.
But I have noticed a story beyond that recorded in the Parable. This is the untold story of a Cultivator coming through AFTER the sowing. This is a similar ministry to that of the vineyard dresser in Luke 13:6-9. It reads like this:
6 He [Jesus] spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
For three years there had been no produce coming from that one fig tree. The vineyard owner decides to have it cut down, yet he asks, in essence, "Why bother keeping it?" This is an unusual dialogue for the Master to enter into, don't you think? The master generally gives the orders; he doesn't usually ask for counsel. The query "why?" is a question that causes the brighter mind to light up.
The teacher, the preacher and the lawyer don't ask the "Why?" Question ... unless they are ready with their own answer. Or ... they really are open to honest, down-to-earth solutions. Smart people ask questions, not so they can hear their own remedies, but probably for at least two reasons: they have no real suggestions to offer ... or: they want to inspire other smart minds to provide a remedy.
The vineyard dresser, probably the planter of the tree, the trimmer of the tree, the pruner of the branches, the carrier of water to the tree in dry times, responds with the suggestion that more attention be given to this one fruitless tree. Maybe there is hope where it looks like there is none. The dresser is interested perhaps, not so much in the produce, as he is in the producer. If he takes care of the producer, the produce will take care of itself.
As Adventists we have a fondness for the power of the book work. Many of us are the fruit of the power contained in the books we continue to scatter. In our younger years we have pounded the pavements of the world and scattered books over all kinds of ground. In our later years we have given of our means to support other young people as they, too, go forth and pound the same pathways. We do it because we believe in the power of the One behind the information contained in these books. These books have the power to change things ... to change circumstances ... to change people.
Maybe you're familiar with the expression, "Second to none."
What does that expression mean? If you're second to none, what are you? You're number one. You're the first. There's no one and no thing before you. In the book, Colporteur Ministry by Ellen White, on page 7, under the heading "Second to None" appears this short passage:
"If there is one work more important than another, it is that of getting our publications before the public, thus leading them to search the Scriptures .... When church members realize the importance of the circulation of our literature, they will devote more time to this work. Papers, tracts and books will be placed in the homes of the people, to preach the gospel in their several lines ...."
And there is another promise just a few pages away on page 128:
"The results of the circulation of 'The Great Controversy' are not to be judged by what now appears. By reading it, some souls will be aroused, and will have courage to unite themselves at once with those who keep the commandments of God. But a much larger number who read it will not take their position until they see the very events taking place that are foretold in it. The fulfillment of some of the predictions will inspire faith that others also will come to pass, and when the earth is lightened with the glory of the Lord, in the closing work, many souls will take their position on the commandments of God as the result of this agency."
The Great Controversy (GC) was introduced to the world in various forms more than 100 years ago. Many canvassers, God rest their souls, have gone into the grave awaiting the fulfillment of the grand themes presented in the GC. As have the people to whom the book has been delivered. Can we agree that most of the predictions made in the GC are still awaiting fulfillment? Has the Papacy been reinstated in its former glory? Has the USA thrown away the Constitution? Has Satan personated Jesus? Some of these things have looked awful close from time to time, but we're still waiting.
With so many people coming into the world daily, can we honestly say, "We've done enough"? Of course not. We are still here because clearly ALL which has been predicted has not come to pass, and ALL the Heavenly work has not yet been completed.
Obviously, book distribution is not the only work the Christian will find to be successful, but, for whatever reason, it appears to be an important one. God is interested in getting the truth contained in the Scriptures into the minds of the people — not just my interpretation of the truth. He wants the soul to have a personal relationship with the Scriptures, and with the Creator to be found within the pages of Scripture.
As a group involved in the distribution of truth-filled literature, we've scattered lots of seed — more than 50 million publications and counting. Some of the seed has sprung to life immediately; some took a while. But, if the author of the books is correct, much of that seed is sitting awaiting a Cultivator. We've seen wonderful results, but there is yet a tremendous harvest just ahead.
Through the years we have noticed these few things:
• Anyone with natural endowments can give a book away, or ...
• He or she can support another person in his or her mission to give a book away, or ...
• He or she can simply offer a prayer to the throne of grace for the spiritual support of the work of giving books away.
This short article is coming to a close. And, like it or not, our own personal clock is coming to its fulfillment also. Time is running out. It's time to bear some fruit and to give the world something wholesome. The world is tired of fig leaves.
May God grant us wisdom and strength to endure the digging around us, and may He grant us peace and fortitude as we put forth our own effort to be all that we can be in the army of Heaven. We shall see Him by and by. Amen.
And that's just my take on it ....